Why Heathrow Made Me Vow To Travel Carry-On Only

On our most recent trip, we got stranded at Heathrow Airport. For two days.

It all started with a delay in Glasgow, on our way home from a two-week vacation in England and Scotland. We had a pretty tight schedule, flying back home to Germany on Sunday, ETA back home around 10 p.m., and starting our work week Monday morning. That’s teacher’s travel life,  you need to make every day of fall vacation count…

Usually, I make sure to have all my travel essentials in my carry-on on the way out, and use our checked luggage on the way back to ship home souvenirs and general overflow that accumulated during our trip. My husband doesn’t share my carry-on obsession, he usually checks his main bag and carries a smallish daypack with just some tech and maybe another warm layer for those moments airplane AC turns arctic.

So, as per usual, on our last day in Scotland, I stuffed all my dirty laundry and some heavier items I was sure I could live without for the next twelve hours that it would take us to get home in our checked bags. At Glasgow Airport, we happily checked our bags, went through the security check and settled in for the hour or so until our flight to London Heathrow was scheduled to leave.

Well, to cut a long story short, our flight ended up being delayed by five hours, which of course caused us to miss our connecting flight from Heathrow to Hannover, Germany, and because our checked luggage stayed somewhere in the deep bowels of Heathrow Airport, waiting to be loaded onto whichever flight we might finally take home, we were left with just our carry-on bags.

12:43 a.m., on our way to the hotel...

12:43 a.m., on our way to the hotel…

One carry-on bag with some toiletries (including our Sonicare, yay!), all our chargers, and some more fragile souvenirs, and one carry-on bag with the rest of our combined tech. No clean change of clothes, not even PJs.

As it was the middle of the night anyway, our main concern was to find a hotel, get a few hours sleep, and get back to the airport at the break of dawn in order to catch the first available flight home.

Little did we know…

When we arrived at the terminal bleary-eyed and under-caffeinated at 6 a.m. Monday morning, we managed to grab hold of airline customer service, who seemed to be completely overwhelmed by the mass of passengers in need of transportation and succeeded in sending us to the wrong check-in lines. And thus caused us to miss another flight. Great.

Desperately needed coffee on our first morning stranded at Terminal 3

Desperately needed coffee on our first morning stranded at Terminal 3

The next flight, the one they promised us we – and even our checked luggage – would be on, was scheduled to leave in the afternoon, so we used the next couple of hours to inform our respective places of work about our delay, grabbed some breakfast and settled in at Terminal 3. Lovely place if you like airport shopping.

When our afternoon flight was canceled two hours before its scheduled departure, we suppressed a short screaming fit, and hurried over to our new friends at yet another customer service point. There we were informed that they would re-book us on the early-morning flight on Tuesday, provide us with yet another hotel for the night, and some vouchers for dinner, breakfast and snacks. Hurray.

After checking in at said hotel, we shortly pondered the options – another night and day in the already twice worn clothes on our backs, or an emergency shopping trip. Needless to say, the shopping trip won.

Westfield Shopping Center

Westfield Shopping Center

The rest of our second unplanned day in London ended with a bus & Tube trip to a giant Westfield mall, where we at least were able to buy some fresh undies, socks, and t-shirts. Clothes that we actually liked and would wear again, not some overpriced and horrible hotel souvenir t-shirts and drugstore undies.

Can’t beat the feeling of clean underwear!


Finally, on Tuesday morning, we actually got on our flight, made it back home to Hannover, and even were re-united with our checked luggage.

Finally, on our flight home!

Finally, on our flight home!

Things I was tremendously happy to have in our carry-ons:

  • all our electronics
  • chargers for all our electronics
  • our Sonicare
  • our most important toiletries


Things I missed in our carry-ons:

  • PJs
  • clean (or at least semi-clean) t-shirts
  • clean undies & socks (or at least another quick-dry pair each that would be fine after a sink-wash)


Thanks to this unplanned adventure, I am absolutely determined to change my way of packing. From now on, I will definitely make sure to pack carry-on only.

I’m pretty sure we won’t change our habit to check a bag on the way home, though, but from now on, this bag will only contain our vacation shopping and any extras we might bring on our trips, like maybe wetsuits or running shoes, and not whatever else we think we won’t need on our flight home (like PJs and spare underwear).

4 thoughts on “Why Heathrow Made Me Vow To Travel Carry-On Only

  1. Cat

    Wow, what a nightmare! But kinda awesome how you dealt with it all and it seems like you have taken it as a learning experience. I, on the other hand, am not as classy and probably would have lost my s***.

    Like you I also carry all my items of value / importance in my carry-on luggage, but it’s those little things like clean clothes, clean teeth etc. that ultimately keep you feeling calm and collected.

    1. Svenja Post author

      It most definitely was a learning experience!
      At the time, it felt like Murphy’s Law for traveling, and more than once, I felt like screaming and randomly hitting walls, for example when we were stuck in an endless line waiting for customer service, and one by one, the desks were deserted – closing time despite all the stranded passengers…

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